The education strike wave comes to Ohio

January 24, 2019

Roland Reed reports from Dayton on a campus labor showdown that pits Wright State University faculty against an administration with a record of heartlessness.

FIGHTING THORUGH frigid winter conditions, the faculty union at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, began a strike on Tuesday against an incompetent, but ruthless, administration.

Members of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP-WSU) overwhelmingly authorized a strike after the administration, led by President Cheryl Schrader and the Wright State Board of Trustees, unilaterally imposed a horrible contract on the faculty union on January 4.

AAUP-WSU currently represents 560 faculty out of a total of more than 1,700. In a vote in which 95 percent of members participated, 85 percent authorized a strike.

What is unusual about this strike is that the faculty aren’t asking for a pay raise. They simply want the administration to actually negotiate with them.

Faculty on the picket line at Wright State University
Faculty on the picket line at Wright State University (AAUP Wright State University)

Standing in the freezing cold with an “On strike” sign in her hands, history professor Noeleen McIlvenna explained the struggle this way:

We’re out here because they have imposed a contract that would seriously damage the academic mission of Wright State University. We understood from the beginning that there would be no raises. We understood we’d pay more in health care, we understood that would be a pay cut when you put those things together.

But they went after everything. They went after workload, which means we’d be spread too thin for our students or to do research. Those things damage Wright State University in the short term and long term. And that’s what has united the faculty.

THE UNITY of the faculty was on display during the first day of the strike. With such a large bargaining unit, it can be difficult to fight as a united union, but McIlvenna said the administration had clearly helped them stay unified:

For our senior faculty, it’s very distressing because they built this university. It’s not an old university. So the ones who’ve been here for 30 or 35 years knew it when it was a tiny place, and they feel like they put their heart and soul into it, so they’re brokenhearted. And the faculty here who are just getting started can’t see themselves working 30 years under these kinds of conditions.

So there’s a unity there that wasn’t always there. This imposed contract unites everybody. That’s how bad it is. There’s also the whole concept that it’s imposed — that they wouldn’t negotiate. That they said you don’t get to have a say, we decide, and you’ll take what we give you.

IT TAKES a lot of gall for an administration that has wasted millions of dollars over several controversies — including defending itself against federal investigations into visa fraud and financial aid mismanagement, according to the Springfield Sun-News — to want to crush the faculty union.

President Cheryl Schrader makes some $680,000 a year from salary and perks. It seems apparent that this salary would be a great place to start making cuts.

While McIlvenna was being interviewed on the picket line, the news that the Los Angeles teachers had won a tentative agreement was announced to resounding cheers. McIlvenna emphasized the connections among striking workers:

We’re dressed Red for Ed. We usually have blue t-shirts, but we’re all Red for Ed. Because exactly the same thing that has happened to K-12 education has now moved up to higher ed — defunding it in every way.

The main reasons that teachers everywhere have gone on strike is that they know they can’t help their students when they’ve got 35 students. And it’s sort of the same for us. You’re not even able to do your job right — or we wouldn’t be under this contract...

We thought administrators and politicians and others would defend public ed, and we kept waiting for that, but all we’ve seen is erosion and erosion, and now it’s dawned on us that it’s up to us...

The stakes are very high so that’s part of it. If they hadn’t imposed such a horrific contract...But they did, because they believe the stakes are high, and they’re going to make their stand for the corporatization of the university. So we have to make our stand.

McIlvenna also gave a shout-out to the teachers of West Virginia who went on strike this past year “who showed us the way.” And AAUP-WSU are getting support and inspiration from the community as well, she said:

We’re thrilled to death with the response from alumni and the current students. They were intimidated into going to class. I think many of them wouldn’t have crossed the picket lines, but they were told their financial aid was at stake, which is absurd. As if a student hadn’t missed a class before...

They’re obviously unhappy with the substitute teachers they’ve put in, if they’ve come at all. They were just lied to. They were told by the president over and over that your classes will be covered, and loads of them weren’t covered. So they were all told to go to the library. One of my students came out here and said, “What did I come for? I can read at home.”

JOHN McNAY, a history professor at the University of Cincinnati and president of the state conference for the AAUP in Ohio, drove up to support his fellow educators on the picket line. He was joined by faculty members from universities like Bowling Green State.

McNay agreed that the corporatization of universities is a major problem. He listed three issues at most universities: “administrative bloat...athletic departments that are financial black holes...and real estate development. And Wright State is as guilty of this as anybody.”

McNay said that “especially for a university that does public service, profit ought not be the objective.” He had advice for other educators: “If you can create a union, you should try and do it.”

McIlvenna had these words for anyone who wants to support the faculty strike at Wright State:

Any publicity...on a national scale helps. Just bring attention because that brings pressure on President Cheryl Schrader. People should know her name as a university president who turned on her faculty. People should know the name of Doug Fecher, the CEO of the local credit union and chair of the Finance Committee, who lost all the money and then turned on us.

The only thing that brings pressure on them is people knowing that they’re trying to use us to fix their mistakes. Any messages of support on our Facebook page are really a boost. When you’re out here in the cold, you can start to get down. Those things really make a difference.

We thank everybody for paying attention. And in all those places, wherever you are you, hang tough, too. We love to hear that the LA teachers hung tough, and we know that Kent State may be the next university. It’s scary for a lot of people, but you’ve got to hang tough.

It’s unclear for now how long the strike at Wright State will last. The spirits of faculty and the students who came out to support them were high on the first day of the walkout. Hopefully, the union will stay out until it wins, because this fight is everyone’s fight.

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